Natural Business

“Oh, your hair is different,”
the hiring manager says as she studies
my driver’s license,
searching for a resemblance
between the tiny, blurred, scratched
photograph taken five years ago
in her hand and the woman
who sits before her.

And as much as I want to,
I don’t leap across the table,
wrap my hands around the throat of this
blond, straight-haired woman,
who can effortlessly run
her fingers through her silky tresses
without snagging a single-strand knot,
and scream, “No, bitch,
my hair doesn’t look like that
in the morning!”

I restrain myself,
sit erect—legs crossed—smile and nod.
After years of working odd jobs in
transportation and fast food,
matting down a twist-out
I spent hours perfecting the night before
underneath a sweaty cotton cap,
I finally get called for a job that can
kickstart my career
in creative advertisement,
and the first question
my potential boss asks
is about my hair.

And although my hair
in the driver’s license photo
barely came to my chin,
was riddled with split ends,
thinned at the crown from
the strong alkali-based cream
I applied every six weeks
to tame rough, nappy new growth,
had a scalp that grew more
scabs than hair follicles
from the many times I waited by the sink
for my beautician to finish gossiping
with her other clients
about who got who pregnant
to come put out the burning
flame atop my head,
it was still better because
it was straight.

I wonder if my “different” hair
would cost me this job.
if “be yourself”
was just something you told
bullied children in school.
Workroom discrimination
only meant something if
you looked like the white
women you worked alongside,
because since the day scientists
trespassed onto African savannahs and
measured the bigger
breasts, buttocks, and labia,
of the dark-skinned “jezebel” woman,
they determined that fair
skin and hair were the
definitions of beauty and purity,
never to be defiled.
So my hair must be
pulled, ripped, burned to fit
a nonexistent, unattainable
European standard of beauty
until I become a pinned up, painted on
android. Not white, not Black, just there,
but acceptable because of my hair.
Straight, combed back,
uniform in Stepford fashion.

From an early age,
young girls and young boys
are indoctrinated to choose
conformity over health.
Man up!
Lose weight!
Comb your hair!

It doesn’t matter that my hair
is softer than cotton,
isn’t ruined when wet,
has grown past my bra strap,
doesn’t require heat
or flammable aerosols
to hold a spiral curl,
can reach toward the sky or
hang over my shoulders,
be pinned up into a bun or
braided down my back,
twisted to resemble locs or
curled to frame my face,
picked out into an afro or
flat ironed bone straight.
If it doesn’t comply with the unwritten
clause in the dress code that says,
No ethnic hair!
I won’t be hired.
I’ll just look for a job where
ethnicity is required.

© 2015 Nortina Simmons

That face you make when a co-worker asks you something stupid about your hair...
“No, Freddy, for the twentieth time, this is NOT a wig!”

6 thoughts on “Natural Business

  1. I really liked this. My natural hair isn’t kinky or coiled, but it is coarse and dry and resembles a bush (maybe I can call it a South Indian hair type). Some times (if it is one of those days I’m especially low on self confidence or if I feel too many women staring at me), I start thinking I look unprofessional because my hair doesn’t fall like a sheet or a wave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have those days so often! I just hate when people stare at my hair. It’s like they’ve never seen kinky hair before. It takes me close to 4 hours to straighten my hair. I just can’t do it every day, so my co-workers better get used to the kinks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how much hair does matter. Yes, my hair is part of my identity, but it isn’t all that I am, and it’s just stupid to judge me based on my hair, or to assume that because it’s not straight, it’s not beautiful. Thanks for reading!


  3. Great poem, great expression of anger,
    resentment, and annoyance, and a
    great display for others to see what life is like
    when people see only one thing, and not
    the person who is and can do and be.

    I am not my hair, my color, or anything other
    than me, who exists and contributes,
    and happens to have hair just like anyone
    else happens to have hair – which
    really doesn’t matter –
    except so much of the time – it does.
    Doesn’t it?


    enjoyed reading it so much….

    Liked by 1 person

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